The Pareto principle, otherwise known as the 80/20 rule, was probably not designed with networking in mind – after all, the Italian mathematician who devised it died in 1923, long before the concept of working a room was invented. Nevertheless, networking fits Pareto’s principle perfectly.
Here’s my point in a nutshell: you can have 1,000 Linkedin connections but only a small minority (maybe 200?) will really go out on a limb for you. They will be there for you when you really need to call in an important favour.
Often, those important favours are to do with the kinds of deals which make or break a banker’s career.
The strongest 20% of your connections will give you a lead over the competition. They will allow you to access privileged information that you might not otherwise have had. It might not be ethical. It might be fair, but all’s fair in love and war.
Such favours come with quid pro quos, of course. No one, not even a close friend, will bend the rules for you without expecting you to reciprocate at some point. But the prospect of a stored favour alone isn’t enough. They also need to know that they can trust you and that your friendship is worth their risk.
That’s why most of the people you might consider to be “contacts” in the loose definition of that word won’t do these things for you. It’s only the ones who feel you’re as invested in them as they are in you who will really help you out.
The danger with ‘modern’ forms of online networking is that they can give you the false impression that you’re nurturing your network – even when you’re not. Simply adding to your connections is not networking. Real networking requires an investment of your time.
I’ve seen this at first hand. A close friend in a mid-ranking position in a private equity firm is always adding to his LinkedIn contacts. He’s also very busy and spends a lot of time travelling. He’s so busy that when a mutual friend of ours (whom we both met on the analyst programme of a major US investment bank) got married, he missed both the stag do and the wedding. Our married friend was so angry that he vowed never to help the prolific online networker out again. Meanwhile, the deal the absentee was working on fell through anyway.
As tempting as it can be to work your fingers to the bone and to take it for granted that friendships will look after themselves, they won’t. Sometimes need to be there for your mates. It might even be the right thing for your career. Remember this as 2013 gets properly underway next week.
Simon Steward is the pseudonym of an author who has worked across a number of investment banking roles and considers himself an expert in careers issues.